Way back in 1970, before MTV and iTunes, Sixto Rodriguez recorded Cold Fact. It was a cool, trippy, hipster kind of folk-rock album with promises of a new and refreshing pop artist. But it was summarily ignored. He recorded his second studio album, Coming From Reality, in 1971 and his record company (A&M) waited in anticipation. Still no one bought his music. So he gave up.
Rodriguez abandoned his recording aspirations shortly after and returned to his previous job of home renovation and labouring in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. But it didn’t end there.
Legend has it that a young American woman brought Cold Fact to her South African boyfriend who in turn shared the new discovery with his friends via cassette tapes. And from there it went viral. Rodriguez became a superstar in South Africa, his albums sold millions and he became more popular than The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Elvis. He had made it. Unfortunately no one told Rodriguez.
Unaware of his huge success in South Africa, Rodriguez received no profits from his huge record sales. And it may have remained that way if not for Malik Bendjelloul , a Swedish documentary film maker. Bendjelloul heard the story of how two South African fans had tracked down Rodriguez in the United States and brought their hero home for multiple sold-out concerts and the adulation of millions. Searching for Sugar Man tells the amazing story of Sixto Rodriguez.
The movie is a must-see for anyone who enjoys a well-crafted story of failure and success, how talent can eventually win over the obstacles facing gifted musicians everywhere, and offers a great soundtrack (comprised completely of Rodriguez tunes) to boot. Brilliant film making and a humble and brilliantly talented musician that was ignored by his own country until his music was adopted by another.
Do yourself a favour and see the movie. Buy the music and enjoy a trip back to the 1970’s. when music was truly simple, meaningful and much more than it is now. And when Sixto Rodriguez was a star in South Africa.